Tag Archives: resilience

Perfect Pairing Observes Refugee Week 2020

This Saturday, 20 June 2020, is the United Nations’ World Refugee Day 2020, and in the United Kingdom and other countries, this week is Refugee Week, a “festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees.” As regular readers know, I read, and review, many picture books about the refugee experience. I’m happy to pair two of these recent books this week.

Boundless Sky

Author: Amanda Addison

Illustrator: Manuela Adreani

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2020

Ages: 4-6

Themes: migration, birds, refugees, welcoming, friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Nobody knew, nobody dreamed, nobody even considered the possibility that a bird that fits in your hand might fly halfway around the world looking for a place to nest . . . or that a young girl from northern Africa might flee halfway around the world looking for safety. This is the story of Bird. This is the story of Leila. This is the story of a chance encounter and a long journey home.

Read my review.

Wherever I Go

Author: Mary Wagley Copp

Illustrator: Munir D. Mohammed

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing/2020

Ages: 6-9

Themes: refugee, resilience, imagination, resettlement

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A hopeful and timely picture book about a spirited little girl living in a refugee camp.

Of all her friends, Abia has been at the Shimelba Refugee Camp the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. Papa says that’s too long and they need a forever home. Until then, though, Abia has something important to do. Be a queen.

Sometimes she’s a noisy queen, banging on her drum as she and Mama wait in the long line for rice to cook for dinner. Sometimes she’s a quiet queen, cuddling her baby cousin to sleep while Auntie is away collecting firewood. And sometimes, when Papa talks hopefully of their future, forever home, Abia is a little nervous. Forever homes are in strange and faraway places—will she still be a queen?

Filled with hope, love, and respect, Wherever I Go is a timely tribute to the strength and courage of refugees around the world.

Read my review.

I paired these books because, though they differ in their storytelling techniques, and though neither sugarcoats the refugee experience, both leave the reader feeling hopeful about the fates of the refugees highlighted. In Boundless Sky, Addison parallels the migration of a bird with the journey of young Leila who migrates from Africa to Britain. In Wherever I Go, Wagley Copp reminds readers that refugees, like the narrator, Abia, are survivors who will enrich the community where they eventually settle.

Looking for similar reads? See The Unexpected Friend, about a young Rohingya refugee, and Yusra Swims, about a refugee who competed in the Olympics.

 

 

PPBF – Wherever I Go

I’m always so happy when I’m able to feature a new picture book by a debut author, especially when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that author and discussing the book before it was published (or even under contract for publication). I know you’ll agree that my selection today truly is a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Wherever I Go

Written By: Mary Wagley Copp

Illustrated By: Munir D. Mohammed

Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing/2020

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: refugee, resilience, imagination, resettlement

Opening:

I AM QUEEN ABIA of the Shimelba Camp. Of all my friends, I have been here the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. That’s what Papa says.

“Too long,” he adds.

I think it’s the perfect amount of time to become a queen.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl recounts her experiences as queen of a refugee camp, sharing the skills she’s acquired that will help her settle in a new country and home.

Links to Resources:

  • Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community (for Refugee Week 2020, 15-21 June, the listed activities can be done at home);
  • Are you a queen or king? Make a crown from a paper plate, or make a real or paper daisy crown;
  • Queen Abia balances a large pail of water on her head. Try placing a book or a container of water on your head (you might want to do this outside!), and then try walking while balancing it there. How does doing this make you feel?
  • Queen Abia helps her mother to prepare fufu, a traditional African food. Try making fufu;
  • Learn more about the refugee experience in the Note from the Author and in the books for young readers listed.

Why I Like this Book:

In Wherever I Go, the imaginative, young Abia introduces readers to her life in a refugee camp. We learn how she marches with friends, pumps and carries water to her mother, helps prepare meals, watches her young cousin, drums while waiting for food distributions, howls at hyenas, and sleeps on a prickly mat. She even wears a crown because she is Queen Abia, who has remained in the camp longer than any of her friends. And when she and her family leave the camp to resettle in a new country and home, she will bring the stories of her reign and the many skills she has learned, because she’ll still be a queen.

In young Abia, Wagley Copp has created a narrator who is imaginative, brave, and resilient. Neither Wagley Copp nor Abia sugarcoat life in the camp. But Wagley Copp reminds readers that refugees, like Abia, are survivors who will thrive and enrich any community where they settle. For they are not victims but authors of their own destinies, who will still be queens or kings wherever they go.

Mohammed’s acrylic paintings transported me to Africa where much of this story takes place. Paired with Wagley Copp’s lyrical text, this debut picture book that tackles the difficult subjects of life in a refugee camp and resettlement afterwards is a must have for schools, libraries, and the homes of everyone who cares about those displaced by war or anhy other reason.

A Note about Craft:

As with many of the picture books about the refugee experience, Wagley Copp uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story, to enable readers to experience life in the refugee camp from Abia’s perspective. I think this helps build reader empathy and greater understanding of the refugee experience.

In the Note from the Author, Wagley Copp explains that she never has been a refugee. She has, however, visited a refugee camp and met resettled refugees in her role as a documentary filmmaker. This first-hand knowledge helps bring authenticity to the story, as does the inclusion of small details, like the number of years, months, and days the family has been in the camp and the type of tree branches that form Abia’s crown.

Visit Wagley Copp’s website to learn more about this debut author and read an interview with her on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

The author provided a digital copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ve chosen a poetry collection this week, by a wonderful writer, Eloise Greenfield, whose picture book, Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me, I reviewed last year (and it’s now available for US readers to enjoy!).

Title: When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Times of War

Written By: Eloise Greenfield

Illustrated By: Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2006

Suitable for Ages: 8-9

Themes/Topics: war; peace; dreams; imagination; resilience; diverse books

Opening:

I Think I Know

I think I know what war/ is all about./ Listen:/ This one was mad at that one,/ and that one was angry, too./ Then the others said,/ “Since you two are mad, we’re going to be mad at you.”/ Now, everyone’s mad/ at somebody else,/ and everyone wants to be right./ And how to decide/ who the winner is?/ They fight.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 17 poems about children and war throughout history.

Links to Resources:

  • Write an acrostic poem in celebration of peace, using the letters in PEACE as the first letters of each line;
  • As a foreword to When the Horses Ride By, Greenfield quotes a portion of Langston Hughes’ “Dreams” (©1994, Estate of Langston Hughes): Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly. Describe or draw your dreams for peace;
  • Think about a time in your family, classroom, school or neighborhood when you or others were angry. What did you do? Think of 3 ways you could promote a peaceful resolution to this conflict;
  • Make and share a peace crane;
  • Celebrate National Poetry Month by reading & writing poems and participating in other activities in your school or town.

Why I Like this Book:

When the Horses Ride By explores a difficult topic, children during times of war. But rather than leaving readers feeling sad and hopeless, Greenfield uses free-verse poetry to explore children’s resilience and show us that even in terrible circumstances, there is hope of a better tomorrow. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the poems provide glimpses into the relationship of children to war from ancient China, through early American conflicts, to world wars, Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, and the Gulf War of the early 2000s.

Teachers and parents will appreciate this great geographical and historical breadth and the inclusion of a diverse group of children and experiences. There’s also a wonderful range of feelings about wartime, including poems about being on the sidelines of war zones, being afraid in war zones, missing parents, understanding soldier parents who return home with injuries, and celebrating the end of war and apartheid.

I particularly enjoyed A Child Like Me, that encourages children to empathize with other children in other places who share the same “scary thoughts”. But “[i]f we laugh, our laughter will meet in the middle of the ocean, and we will be friends.”

Gilchrist’s colorful collages combine site and era specific details, including photographs, with images of children’s faces and child-like pursuits, including toys.

A Note about Craft:

Greenfield uses poetry to describe the many varied ways that war affects children and how children react to war. I think this medium enables Greenfield to explore this difficult topic in a way that doesn’t leave readers feeling hopeless. Using poems about different wars, both geographically and throughout history, also enables readers to distance themselves somewhat from the conflicts and to come to the realization that “surrounded by love” that takes them “through the danger days”, the children will survive with their wonder, wisdom, laughter and hope, as they “are the children…still”.

Greenfield is the author of almost 50 books for children, and has received many awards, including the 2018 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English. Read a 2007 interview by Don Tate in The Brown Bookshelf, including a discussion about When the Horses Ride By.

Visit Gilchrist’s website to see more of her award-winning books and illustrations.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

PPBF – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.

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Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience

Opening:

It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

My pick for today is not the tale of a refugee nor does it cast a spotlight on a place experiencing conflict. It does, however, shed light on the Spanish-language author equivalent to Shakespeare, and offer hope and insights to those experiencing personal and/or societal conflict or pain.  I hope you agree that it’s a Perfect Picture Book:

MiguelsBraveKnight_mainTitle: Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

Poems Written By: Margarita Engle

Illustrated By: Raúl Colón

Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/October 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: imagination; poetry; historical fiction; hope; resilience

Opening:

Happiness

When I close my eyes,

I ride up high

on a horse the color of moonrise!

But then I open my eyes,

and all I see is Papá, selling

the last of the horses from his stable—

Brief Synopsis: Through free-verse poetry, the life and dreams of young Miguel Cervantes are explored, offering a clue into what inspired the writing of Don Quixote, the first modern novel.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teacher’s Guide, including a Vocabulary Puzzle Game, Windmill drawing activity, and poetry prompt;
  • An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, and “Don Quixote, a Cultural Icon” provide context;
  • Create your own windmill;
  • Young Cervantes was a dreamer. What do you imagine when you dream? Who are you and what do you do? Write a poem setting out these ideas (“When I dream…,” or “Sometimes I imagine…”, or, the prompt suggested in the Teacher’s Guide, “In my daydreams, I…”).

Why I Like this Book:

Miguel’s Brave Knight is a beautiful book – both the free verse poems exploring young Cervantes’ fears and dreams and the gorgeous water-colored pen and ink illustrations that accompany the text. While many children may not know firsthand the story of Don Quixote, I think they will be keen to learn more about this seminal book after reading Miguel’s Brave Knight.

In addition, by juxtaposing young Miguel’s family circumstances with his dreams and writing, I think Engle’s poems will speak to children who themselves are experiencing family or societal hardships firsthand. In “Hunger,” Engle writes, They even took our beds and plates./ Where will we sleep?/ How will we eat? Reading these words, I can’t help but picture children living in impoverished households with one or more caregiver incarcerated, those whose parents face deportation, and refugees. Thankfully, Engle also posits in “Comfort,” the spark of a story…/A tale about a brave knight/ who will ride out on/ a strong horse/ and right/ all the wrongs/ of this confusing/ world.

A Note about Craft:

Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight as a series of free verse poems, told from a first-person Point of View. I think this works well for a fictionalized biography (fiction, because Engle shares Cervantes’ thoughts and feelings), especially of an author.

In an Author’s Note, Engle shares that she visited the windmills of Spain as a teen with her family, grew up surrounded by the images of Don Quixote, and “wrote Miguel’s Brave Knight to show how the power of imagination can be a great source of comfort and hope in times of struggle and suffering.” What draws you to write or illustrate a story and what further themes can you pull from that story?

In Reading Picture Books with Children (Charlesbridge, 2015), Megan Dowd Lambert champions the whole book approach, and counsels that everything about a picture book can help tell the story. In Miguel’s Brave Knight, the endpapers are particularly relevant, and readers are treated to an imaginative surprise when they peek under the jacket cover.

Learn more about Margarita Engle and Raúl Colón. See my reviews of Engle’s All the Way to Havana and Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics.

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This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!